I loved when my aunts and uncles went out to the old white shed behind the house and got out the flower baskets and started cutting irises and stems of green leaves from the lilac bushes out back and stems of small white flowers for filler on the side of the house. I loved being given the chance to put a flower or two in the basket and be part of the whole process. Once at the cemetery, the kids, (myself included) were tasked with carrying the cut clothes hangers and pushing them into the ground to hold the baskets of fresh flowers and the mums, and with carrying the water buckets and making sure everything was watered well.
It is still the same, decades later. Baskets are pulled out, flowers cut (sorry about the irises, Mom!), aunts and uncles (and me!) doing our best to show the love and respect we have for the people whose graves the flowers will go on. Grandma Elaine always gets the dark purple irises Uncle Stewart brings from home. They were her favorite.
A tradition such as this one, of remembering our connections with the present and the past, help anchor us. We remember who we are and what we are a part of. Grandpa Elaine passed away when I was about 13 and I don't remember her at the cemeteries with us, but I feel her presence so strongly each year as we put together the baskets with the flowers and plants she grew at her home when she was alive. I remember Grandpa Max hoisting himself out of the car and sitting on a folding chair, overseeing the work on Grandma Elaine's grave and those of his siblings and parents. I remember Dad leading the way, sometimes with Robin or Randal or Stewart reminding him of details he missed, telling the family lineage and where the people came from and their history. I hope he continues for many, many more years so that my children can hear the stories of their ancestors. And so that we of the next generation will be able to someday tell our grandchildren the stories as we place flowers on the graves.
This year, we were lucky to have Grandma June visiting Mom and Dad. I was grateful to have her there because my kids haven't had the chance to get to know her well because Arizona is a bit of a drive from us. Eva smiled at her, Noah talked to her, and she taught Davis how to play Skip Bo (and he taught Grandpa Michael how to play when Grandpa had to take Grandma's place for a few minutes).